Israel Releases 15 Prisoners Despite New Violence in Lebanon

Despite renewed violence in southern Lebanon, Israel and its allied South Lebanon Army released 15 detainees Monday to facilitate a prisoner-for-hostages exchange.

One was a Hezbollah member held inside Israel. The other 14 were Lebanese Shi’ites detained by the SLA at the El-Khiam camp in the southern Lebanon security zone. Described as “minor offenders” serving one-to four-year sentences, they were freed on orders of the Israel Defense Force as a “humanitarian gesture.”

There were reports from Lebanon on Monday that hours after the Israeli move, kidnappers in Lebanon had freed American hostage Jesse Turner. But later in the day, U.S. and Syrian officials said they had received no confirmation that Turner had indeed been released.

The hostage situation was complicated by a new spate of violence in southern Lebanon that began Sunday, when a remote-control bomb planted by members of Hezbollah, the Islamic fundamentalist Party of God, killed three IDF soldiers, all members of an armored patrol of the elite Golani Brigade.

The IDF identified the dead Israeli soldiers as Master Sgt. Naif Hayed, 35, a Druse tracker and father of six from the Galilee village of Tuba; Sgt. Nadav Yisraeli, 20, of Tzova; and Sgt. Haim Hanoch, 19, of Ofakim.

Two other soldiers were wounded, one seriously. Capt. Doron Yona of Jerusalem, who led the armored patrol, was reported in critical condition with head and chest wounds. Cpl. Amir Avrahami, 19, was hospitalized for moderate wounds.

RETRIBUTION AGAINST VILLAGERS

Israeli air force jets pounded Hezbollah headquarters at Jibshit, southwest of Nabatiya, on Monday, after a 24-hour barrage by IDF and SLA artillery.

An IDF spokesman declared the target totally destroyed and said all aircraft returned safely to their bases.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Monday that Israel was not willing and had not been asked to put “any limititations on ourselves” in the ongoing war with Hezbollah.

And Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, IDF commander of the northern region, threatened severe retribution against villages in southern Lebanon who aid or shelter Hezbollah fighters.

“They cannot expect to live in peace and quiet in their villages if they allow the Hezbollah to use them to launch attacks against us,” he warned.

The SLA commander, Gen. Antoine Lehad, imposed a blockade on 11 Shi’ite villages near Nabatiya. He warned that any person or vehicle caught moving outside the villages would be shot.

The Hezbollah member freed by Israel was identified as Ali Habas Fawzi. He was handed over to Red Cross representatives at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing and escorted to Tyre.

The other detainees, including two women, also were taken to Tyre. Nine said they planned to return to their homes in the security zone.

NEXT STORY